2011 SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge, Day 1

Jan. 16, 2011 By Josh Burns, Photos by Art Eugenio
BJ Baldwin and NASCAR's Robby Gordon were the first two off the line to the delight of the crowd. Gordon left the race with a blown engine and didn't sound as though he would return Sunday. Baldwin had also had issues but was able to finish and looks to rebound from Saturday's misfortune.

If the grandstands full of off-road race fans at the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge is any indicator, off-road racing appears to be alive and well in 2011. Despite recent years where rain and ugly weather plagued this race, sunny skies and a steady desert breeze greeted racers and fans at the Laughlin Event Park.

Although this race doesn’t have the most jam-packed field since it’s so early in the season (SCORE officials told us 123 racers entered), many big-name racers looking to stay in the points battle for the year-end championship were definitely on hand. The race format is unique compared to the longer endurance races SCORE puts on south of the border. The Laughlin Desert Challenge is held on a 6.25-mile loop course just away from the main strip of casinos on the riverbank. The overall time of both Saturday and Sunday’s laps combine to determine the overall winner for each class.

With the other classes racing in the morning (see below for class results), the Trophy-Trucks powered off the line just after lunch. The crowd was teeming with anticipation for the start of the race since Robby Gordon and BJ Baldwin were the first two off the line. The fan favorites didn’t disappoint, as the two trucks powered off the line with Baldwin gaining a small lead down the drag-strip-style front straight. The two battled for the first few laps, but Gordon eventually was forced to pull off with engines issues and was unable to continue.

“My plan was to just watch BJ for the first seven laps and then race him at the end,” said Gordon, who was out of the Dakar and flew to this race hoping for a better result. “[The engine] started miss-firing … and it just quit on me. We started out the weekend right, qualified fastest … but we didn’t make it.”

Bryce Menzies was the second fastest Trophy Truck on Saturday behind Jesse Jones. Both will be first off the line on Sunday.

Baldwin, all alone out front, was able to pull away from the field, but a little more than halfway through the race he got a flat tire after hitting a rock, allowing Bryce Menzies to move into the physical lead. Rob MacCachren, Taylor Steele, Robbie Pierce, Roger Norman, Mark Weyrich, Pete Sohren and Jesse Jones all appeared to be in contention for the day one lead. Until the numbers were crunched, it was hard to tell.

In the end, it was Jones who was able to post the fastest overall eight-lap time on Saturday, edging out Menzies by a mere four seconds. The finish for Jones was impressive considering the fact that he came from the back of the pack to earn the fastest overall time. But the theme for many racers was the same: make sure to finish the race on Saturday.

“We just tried to finish this weekend,” Norman said, finishing in sixth place less than two minutes behind the leader. “We don’t have time to fix anything, so we just want to take it easy and get the points.”

MacCachren, who finished in seventh place, echoed the same sentiments. “This race is so critical to the championship that if you walk out of here with a DNF, it’s big downer for the year,” he said.

It’s also so early in the season that some racers are still getting a feel few for their new vehicles. “We finally have some horsepower in this thing,” Weyrich said of his third-place trophy truck, noting that he’s been working on a new motor during the offseason but only installed it about a week ago.

For second-place Menzies, the plan to make a few adjustments on the truck and get ready to race tomorrow.

“The first part of it was pretty smooth and it just started getting rougher and rougher, and we just had to put a good pace and we’ll come back tomorrow and have a good showing and finish off the weekend right,” Menzies said. “We need to stiffen up the truck a little bit because the holes are getting bigger, and we’ll just have to come back tomorrow and see how it goes.”

Last year’s Baja 1000 winner Gustavo Vildosola Jr., who was running well before having issues a few laps in, looked a bit dejected after the race because he had to limp around the track at times due to overheating issues. But he’s like so many racers entering Sunday’s race – he’ still in the game.

“It was good for the first two or three laps, and then the trans stated getting really, really hot,” Vildosola explained. “So we just had to look at the big picture – it’s a two-day event, it’s 16 laps and not eight, so we put it in third [gear] and cruised around the track. It was very frustrating watching all of these guys get by me, but whatever, it’s a two-day event. We’ll see tomorrow.”

But don’t for a second think that everyone will be taking it easy for this whole race. There will definitely be some teams going for broke tomorrow. “We’re going to stretch the rubber band really thin,” Baldwin said. “We may not be able to win the whole race but we’re going to try.”

Class 1 was the final group to take the track on Sunday. With the course having been chewed up all day long by every other class, racers had their work cut out for them on the brutal 6.25-mile course. Of the 25 starters in Class 1, it was NASCAR Truck Series racer Justin Lofton who earned the win with an overall time of 58:32.

Justin Lofton earned the fastest time in Class 1 on Saturday.

“It’s awesome to be here in Laughlin in front of all these fans and everyone out here,” Lofton said. “I left it all out there. It was unbelievable. There’s not one inch out there that I didn’t hit.”

Finishing in second place in his first Class 1 race was Justin Davis on his new Green Army buggy. Davis jumped up in class after earning the Score Lite Championship last year.

“We just worked our way through the pack and let it all hang out,” said Davis, who was very pleased with the performance of his new car – despite it only having 40 miles on it entering the race. “The car worked flawless, and it was a great day.”

Finishing just 45 seconds behind class winner Lofton was Harley Letner. “It was amazing. Rough as alwaysjust like you can predict at Laughlin. Today I just tried to make eight laps, and tomorrow I just have to figure out who I’ve got to beat.”

Not everyone had a great day at Laughlin for SCORE's season opener.

Fourth place in class was “Pistol” Pete Sohren, who stripped the body panels off of his vehicle and ran it as an open-wheel vehicle.  “Well, we just wanted to get a good finish in both the Trophy Truck and the Class 1 race today. Right on the seventh lap, right when I took off, it must’ve been power steering leaking out because we had no power steering during the last lap. I almost went off the track like 20 times ... we made it around but we lost a lot of time on the last lap.”

Finishing in fifth place was T.J. Flores, who like Davis had to work his way through the pack to get up front. He is 1 minute and 35 seconds behind the leader and is in striking distance for tomorrow’s win.

“We started 25th and I passed guys all the way up to 106,” Flores said. “I still think tomorrow’s going to be more attrition. It’s a really, really rough course. It’s going to be a tough deal tomorrow trying to driving around the holes and not through them.”

For more on the event, or to check out action from the Laughlin Leap, check out the Off-Road.com Blog.

SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge

Day 1 Results

Class 1-2 (6 laps)

1. Luke McMillin – 49.14

2. Mac Marmon – 49.15

3. Arnoldo Ramirez – 49.29

Class 11 (3 laps)

1. Justin Matney

2. Matt Cullen

Class 3 (5 laps)

1. Donald Moss 45:43

Class 6 (6 laps)

1. David Caspino 44:51

2. Jeffery T. Holmes 46:01

3. Marc Burnett 57:07

Class 7 (6 laps)

1. Dan Chamlee – 50:06

2. Brandon Walsh - DNF

Class 7SX (5 laps)

1. Elias Hanna – 41:49

2. John Holmes – 41:54

Class 8 (6 laps)

1. Noak Ostanik – 47:07

2. Justin Matney – 47:12

Class 5 (7 laps)

1. Kevin Carr 59:59

2. Victor H. Cessena 1:00:33

3. Cody Kellogg – 1:16:27

Class 10 (7 laps)

1. Michael LaPagia – 52:27

2. Robert McBeath – 54:24

3. Alex Mendez – 54:59

Score Lites

1. Jamie Huerta T. – 53:25

2. Sammy Ehrenberg – 54:34

3. Steven Eugenio – 54:57

Trophy Truck

1. Jesse Jones 55:59

2.  Bryce Menzies – 56:03

3. Mark Weyrich – 56:47

4. Pete Sohren – 57:38

4. Robbie Pierce – 57:38

6. Roger Norman – 57:45

7. Rob MacCachren – 58:28

8. Gustavo Vildosola Jr. – 58:30

9. Gary Weyrich – 59:42

10. Bobby Baldwin – 59:45

Class 1

1. Justin Lofton – 58:32

2. Justin Davis

3. Harley Letner

4. Pete Sohren

5. T.J. Flores

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